English Language Learners1

ELLs are a diverse group of students nationally and within states, districts, and schools. The descriptions of ELLs presented here come with several cautions.

  1. It is inappropriate to assume that the labels of "English Language Learners" or groups within ELLs describe the characteristics of individual students. It is important to look beyond the group name (ELLs) to develop appropriate mechanisms to accurately understand the characteristics of these students in greater detail.
  2. It should be recognized that almost all ELLs receive the majority of their instruction in the general education classroom and are participants in regular statewide assessments.

English language learners are defined here as those students receiving services for their limited English proficiency. In the 50 states, approximately 9% of the population of public school children is considered to be ELLs.2 Figure 1 shows the percentages of students who received ELL services in the Consortia states in 2008-09.

Figure 1. Percentage of Students Receiving ELL Services in 2008-09
Figure 1. Percentage of Students Receiving ELL Services in 2008-09

Data were adapted from NCES Common Core Data (2008-2009) "Local Education Agency Universe Survey" representing children ages 3-21 via nces.ed.gov/ccd. Data from Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island were not included in the CCD data set. The information on state membership in this figure was accurate as of June, 2011.

The percentages of ELLs in 2008-09 ranged from 1% to 24% of the public school population. These state-level percentages can conceal some large degrees of variability in the size of the ELL population between and within school districts in a state. States with a small overall population of ELLs may still have school districts or schools with large percentages of ELLs.

ELLs come from a variety of home language backgrounds. Across the nation in 2008, the five home languages that states most frequently reported for ELLs were: Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. Still, states differ in the top five home languages found in their own ELL populations. Figure 4 shows the extent to which Consortia states share one or more of the nation's top five home languages.

Figure 2. Appearance of the Nation's Five Most Common Home Languages in States' Top 5 Languages
Figure 2. Appearance of the Nation's Five Most Common Home Languages in States' Top 5 Languages

Data were adapted from State Consolidated Performance Reports available on the federal government Department of Education website via www2.ed.gov. The information on state membership in this figure was accurate as of June, 2011.

States vary with regard to sharing one or more of the nation's five most common home languages (Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian) as one of their top five language groups for ELLs. Four states report only one of those common languages in their top five while two states report all five of them. It is important to note that states with one or fewer of the nation's most common home languages also had at least two American Indian and Alaska Native languages included among their state's top five home languages.

Spanish is a top five home language in almost all of the states in both Consortia, but there are more than 60 other languages that comprise the top five home languages across the 50 states.3 More than 10 of these languages are American Indian and Alaska Native languages, even though the percentage of these students nationally who are ELLs may be relatively small.

ELLs with Disabilities1

ELLs with disabilities are a diverse group of students nationally and within states, districts, and schools. The descriptions of ELLs with disabilities presented here come with several cautions.

  1. It is inappropriate to assume that the label of ELLs with disabilities, or groups within ELLs with disabilities describe the characteristics of individual students. It is important to look beyond the group name (ELLs with disabilities) to develop appropriate mechanisms to accurately understand the characteristics of these students in greater detail.
  2. It should be recognized that almost all ELLs with disabilities receive the majority of their instruction in the general education classroom and are participants in regular statewide assessments.

English Language Learners (ELLs) with disabilities are an important part of the population in U.S. schools today. Like other special education students or other ELLs, most of these students participate in general education classrooms and regular statewide assessments.

Nationally, ELLs with disabilities comprise almost 8% of the population of public school students with disabilities.2 The percentages in individual states vary. Figure 3 shows the percentages of ELLs with disabilities in Consortia states in 2008-09.

Figure 3. Percentage of Special Education Students Receiving ELL Services in Fall 2008
Figure 3. Percentage of Special Education Students Receiving ELL Services in Fall 2008

Data were adapted from 2008 Part B Educational Environments Tables 2-2, 2-3, 2-5a, 2-6a representing children ages 3-21 via www.IDEAdata.org. Data from Vermont were not included in the IDEAdata.org data set. The information on state membership in this figure was accurate as of June, 2011.

The percentages of ELLs with disabilities in 2008-09 ranged from nearly 0% to 28% of the special education population.

  1. This information was taken from Understanding Subgroups in Common State Assessments: Special Education Students and ELLs (NCEO, 2011).
  2. This and other general percentages are based on children ages 3-21. This age range is the most common one for which data are available across data sets used to describe students with disabilities and English language learners.
  3. The number of home languages in individual states often is reported as much higher than this number; often these counts include variations of one language - Mandarin and Chinese may be counted as two languages in some states.

Our Partners

  • NATIONAL ASSOCATION OF STATE DIRECTORS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION (NASDSE)
  • AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, AFL-CIO
  • NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE BOARDS OF EDUCATION (NASBE)

National Center on Education Outcomes

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)
National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE)
Supported by: U.S. Office of Special Education Programs